After high noon, there came a false dawn. By the time that the clock struck midday at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart today, Zimbabwe had laid the platform for a great score and given itself a genuine chance of challenging Australia in the teams' Carlton Series encounter. Less than five and a half hours later, its hopes lay in tatters as it looked back upon the effect of a batting display that led the home team to a destructive six wicket victory with six overs to spare.
Alistair Campbell (124) and Mark Waugh (102*) traded centuries, and both bowling attacks were no better than steady, but there was little else in the way of parity between the teams. At 6/279, Zimbabwe appeared to have handed itself a great platform from which to attack the Australians. Alas, the target was overhauled with ridiculous, almost farcical, ease.
The Zimbabweans had headed to the southernmost of Australia's six major cricketing centres today with hopes of lifting themselves closer to the heights scaled by the all-conquering home side. For three and a half hours, they performed the job beautifully; after being invited to bat, the tourists produced their highest total of the tournament, a ground record score for a one-day international, and established a target of such magnitude that an Australian team had never previously overhauled a bigger score on home soil in one-day international history.
In the main, it was Campbell who was responsible. After a tough initiation against Glenn McGrath (2/43 off ten overs) and Damien Fleming (0/46 from ten), he orchestrated a half-century stand for the opening wicket with Guy Whittall (36); another half-century association for the second wicket with an aggressive Stuart Carlisle (36); and then a century stand for the third with Andy Flower (51).
Alistair CampbellPhoto CricInfo
Severe on anything wide or short, Campbell conceived a masterful performance. Before being given his marching orders - on the back of exhaustive replays of a stumping decision - he was assured and confident. He didn't even offer a chance as he made his way serenely toward the second highest score of his one-day international career and the highest ever made at this venue. Sparkling driving through the off side was matched by serial gliding behind the wicket and clever working of the ball into gaps in the leg side field.
On the back of their former captain's anchoring performance, the Zimbabweans made excellent progress all the way through their innings. The pace of the run scoring was frenetic early, was eased back through the middle stages, and was then accelerated again nicely with a flurry of clean hitting toward its conclusion.
"It's disappointing in the end. I thought 280 was a good score. But, obviously, it's not good enough against these guys," lamented Campbell after the match.
"We knew that, with that sort of score on the board, we'd have to make them work to get them. But we just weren't able to create enough pressure on the bowling side," he added.
Undoubtedly encouraged by events in Sydney two days ago, the Australians had meanwhile again become flirtatious with their form early in the match. And this time, they were punished for it. A decision to throw Ian Harvey (0/54 from ten overs) the ball in the seventh over cost sixteen runs immediately and another six in the over that followed. Moreover, it allowed the Zimbabweans to establish some irresistible momentum.
Also aiding the tourists' cause was an uncharacteristically sloppy display from the home team in the field. Aside from an excellently effected run out from wicketkeeper and international debutant Brad Haddin to remove Whittall and a wonderful running catch from Andrew Symonds at long on to spark the demise of Carlisle, there was little about to which to enthuse from an Australian point of view.
There was even an ugly fumble from Haddin himself as he attempted - ultimately successfully - to win the approval of third umpire, John Smeaton, in the stumping decision which went against Campbell. Only some fine saves in the deep and another excellent catch from Damien Martyn to dismiss Flower over the closing stages of the innings helped temper the general spectacle of misfields and unremarkable returns.
Perhaps it was the case that Australia had simply become too concerned with its desire to supplement established practice with new tricks.
But the tale of its pursuit of the target gave another pretty good idea of its awesome power. Symonds (60) might well have been out from the very first ball of the response when his gloves either just made or just failed to make contact with a rising Heath Streak (0/49 off ten overs) delivery. As it was, the Zimbabweans simply could not believe that Umpire Steve Davis failed to uphold their frenzied appeal.
Thereafter, the belligerent Queenslander, in his role as Australia's fifth opener of the series, simply tore the Zimbabwean attack to shreds. As Waugh proceeded to make slower and more measured progress toward a sixteenth one-day hundred at the other end, Symonds led Australia past the half-century mark inside eight overs. On a placid pitch, under sunny skies, and against bowlers showing more in the way of enthusiasm than skill, it was never really a contest after that. Captain Steve Waugh (79) also offered a convincing contribution.
"We knew it was a good wicket. We had to get through the first five or ten overs when there was a bit of bounce and sideways movement. But after that, we knew it'd flatten out," said the Australian skipper.
"It was a target we thought we could achieve."
It was a task so casually achieved, in fact, that Mark Waugh even permitted himself the ridiculous luxury of farming the strike toward the end and refusing a multitude of potential singles on offer in the name of reaching his landmark. Although the Australians required more runs, their victory was one which didn't require too much more in the way of exertion than the eleven which have preceded it this summer.